Cuando la fe mueve montañas/When Faith Moves Mountains, Lima, Peru, April 11th, 2002

500 volunteers were equipped with shovels and asked to form a single line in order to displace by 10 cm a 500 m-long sand dune from its original position.
The motto of this action - 'Maximum effort, minimum result' - rhetorically inverts the principle of efficiency that lies at the heart of modern economic thought. However, Alÿs's contribution to the Lima Biennale of 2002 transposes such questioning to the field of social action. To be sure, the enormity of collective effort and expense that historical change imposes on one generation after another seems completely out of proportion with the paucity of the gains achieved.
However, rather than regarding political engagement as a mirage, Alÿs's work sets up an alternative standard to that underlying economy of social history. That a few hundred volunteers barely displaced a sand dune located on the outskirts of Lima, physically enacted the canonical parable of the powers of faith. The event was an attempt to cast a profane light on the significance that social movements and political transitions have on their own, once they are perceived beyond the mystique of 'the revolution'. At the very time Peru was undergoing a transition from Alberto Fujimori's dictatorship to its current squalid democracy, Alÿs found it necessary to rescue the value of social mobilisation as an absurd act, which ought to be understood as a miracle of sorts, valuable for its own sake, independent of the result. Producing the event on a sand slope on the edge of LIma, where millions of displaced rural people migrated during and after the civil war of the 1980s, suggested both a critique of the romanticism of Land art and a call to rethink the role of informal settlements as a force of historical transformation. The fact that most of the volunteers were university students distanced the work from the current presumptions of so-called 'collaborative works'. The organisers of the action were understandably reluctant to reduce politics to the direct interaction with 'communities', on the presupposition of any lack of mediation between art and a specific society. The work questioned the iconography and concepts of mass politics, insofar as it addressed the significance of poetic motifs and affects in political formations. As Peruvian theorist Gustavo Buntinx argued, subverting one of the dogmas of the Shining Path guerrilla movement: 'illusion is also power'.

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